Appended to the eastern end of Hengsha Island, a giant land-reclamation project is the quietest, most remote place in Shanghai, the place with the freshest air, and the place with some of the best birding in the municipality. Although certain to be developed someday, for now the project acts like a nature reserve, important to endangered species such as Black-faced Spoonbill.
Though lacking trees, “New Hengsha” does offer four other critical forms of habitat.
– Drier, savanna-type grassy areas, good for Hen Harrier, Oriental Plover, Northern Lapwing, Merlin, Chinese Grey Shrike, Eurasian Skylark, Buff-bellied Pipit, and Richard’s Pipit
– Reed beds, where are found impressive numbers of Eurasian Bittern, Chinese Penduline Tit, Reed Parrotbill, Pallas’s Reed Bunting, and Oriental Reed Warbler
– Ponds, in which Black-faced Spoonbill (often accompanied by Eurasian Spoonbill) wade, ducks such as Falcated Duck, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, and more rarely Mandarin Duck, Common Shelduck, Garganey, and Baikal Teal swim, and near which Kentish Plover breed and Pacific Golden Plover pass on migration
– Mudflats, where Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Great Knot have been found, and on which a host of other, more common species appear, among them Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Dunlin
A good day’s birding could be had covering the road from the entrance to the place marked “Savanna, Reeds, Mudflats, and Ponds” on the map above. From there, the birder could turn north and cover the ponds before doubling back.
Note however that New Hengsha extends at least 25 km east from the entrance. As one drives east, the land becomes progressively new and (for now) barren. Along the roads, look to the inner base of the dike for buntings, among them Yellow-throated Bunting and Rustic Bunting. In the occasional ponds you will find Common Snipe, Pin-tailed Snipe, and sometimes unusual birds such as Green Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone.
At such a vast coastal area, rare sightings are bound to occur. On 18 April 2015 Elaine and I had a male Black Redstart. We found it fly-catching on the sea wall on the northeast side of the reclaimed area.
If the reclaimed land had microforests such as at Nanhui, then it would be the place to go birding in Shanghai. But because it is nearly treeless, it is a little short on woodland birds. Some of the birder’s thirst for forest habitat can be quenched by a visit to the wooded farming areas just outside the reclaimed area.
To get to Hengsha, in Pudong get on the G40 (Hushan Expressway [沪陕高速]). Take the Shanghai Yangtze River Tunnel 9 km to Changxing Island (Chángxīng Dǎo [长兴岛]). Drive to the port, marked on the map, on the eastern end of Changxing. From Changxing, it is a 10-minute ferry ride to Hengsha. The ferry costs 40 yuan round trip for car plus driver, plus 5 yuan per extra passenger one-way.
The entrance to the reclaimed area is marked on the map above. Guards man the station after 08:00 and will deny you entry. Birders arriving before 08:00 can drive right in, and once in will not be asked to leave. Note that the place on the map marked “Excellent View of Main Pond” is outside the restricted area and is therefore available at any time. The wooded areas along this road are a good place to add those woodland birds!
To the southeast of the reclaimed area is the little-visited Jiuduansha Wetland Nature Reserve, a collection of islands, shoals, and surrounding water at the mouth of the Yangtze River.
Featured photo: Crested Myna atop water buffalo, Hengsha, 6 Nov. 2014. (Craig Brelsford)